For the first time since the team’s dark ages leading up to the 2004-05 lockout, the New York Rangers are set to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season. After the team announced their intentions to move on from their previous core and begin again, followed by an uneventful summer in terms of outside acquisitions, another spring without playoff hockey at Madison Square Garden was to be expected.
A respectable start that saw the team win 12 of its first 22 games was all for naught, as the Rangers have only won 16 of their 51 contests since Thanksgiving to find themselves in a position pundits around the league expected them to be. With playoff hopes long gone, the only meaningful event for the Rangers between now and June’s Entry Draft is the league’s draft lottery. The lottery takes place on Tuesday, April 9th, and will feature all but one of the 15 teams that fail to qualify for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Since 2016, the draft lottery has determined which teams will make the first, second, and third overall selections in the Entry Draft, while leaving the rest of the rounds unchanged. The team with the worst record in the league has the greatest odds of winning the first overall selection, (as well as the second and third overall selection) and teams that finished higher in the standings have subsequently weaker odds. The full table of odds is as follows:
This weighted system produces some oddities, such as seeing the worst team in the NHL being more likely to select 4th than 1st, 2nd, or 3rd combined. It’s designed to minimize the odds of a franchise being rewarded with premium picks on a yearly basis for failing to build winning rosters around previously drafted talent, and it works well in that regard.
With ten games or less remaining for all 31 of the league’s teams, there isn’t much room for any team to skyrocket up or plummet down the standings. A run of 7 or 8 wins or losses down the stretch could vault a team in either direction, but the teams in lottery contention are there for a reason. If they were capable of such a winning streak, it likely would’ve happened before their playoff hopes went down the drain. With that said, this year’s likely lottery participants can be divided into three groups.
The Cellar Dwellers: Ottawa, Los Angeles, Detroit, and New Jersey
The first group of teams consist of the upper echelon lottery contenders. Whether the mantra of the 2019 draft is #LoseForHughes or #CrappoForKakko, these four teams have been committed to those campaigns throughout the majority of the season.
After finishing 30th and 27th last season respectively, the Senators and Red Wings currently find themselves in contention for a top pick in the draft again, sitting 31st and 29th in the league-wide standings. After selecting Brady Tkachuk with the 4th overall selection last June, the Senators are in prime position to add another blue chip prospect to their talent pool...............is what I would say if they didn’t already convey their pick to the Colorado Avalanche.
The Kings and Devils both unexpectedly snuck into Wild Card playoff spots last season, and it’s been all downhill since then. The Devils took a predictable step back due to injuries and general under-performance compared to last season. The Kings’ acquisition of 35 year old Ilya Kovalchuk wasn’t enough to keep the window open for their veteran-laden, top heavy roster, so they now reside in the basement of the NHL standings.
The four teams in this group range from 56-63 points. With a six point gap separating 28th place New Jersey from 27th place Anaheim, the Senators, Kings, Red Wings, and Devils are likely to finish the season as the bottom four teams in the NHL.
The Playoff “Hopefuls”: Montreal, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Florida, Colorado, and Chicago
The next two groups are bit trickier to separate for a couple reasons. The disparity between the bubble teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences means that teams with similar or equal amounts of points in different conferences could take radically different approaches to the final stretch of the season.
Take the Florida Panthers as an example. Currently sitting eight points out of a playoff spot with three teams in front of them, their playoff chances are nearly 0%. However, they’re also seven points in front of the Rangers, so it would take a minor miracle for the Rangers to tie or even pull ahead of Florida by the conclusion of game 82. They’re not really in the playoff race at this point, but they’re also essentially a non-factor as far as the Rangers are concerned, so into this group they go.
The Chicago Blackhawks are another tricky team to group correctly. They currently sit four points out of a playoff spot in the West with a game (or two) in hand on the other bubble teams, but are only five points away from the Rangers. Chicago is a short winless stretch of 3 or 4 games from being in the thick of the next group, but they’re also a short winning streak away from being neck and neck with the Arizona Coyotes for the second Wild Card spot.
Six points separates 28th from 27th, but only seven points separate the 27th place Ducks and 21st place Avalanche. There had to be some universal cutoff point, so all teams in this group currently sit above .500 points percentage. Although these teams still have longshot playoff hopes, it wouldn’t be a shock to see some of the teams towards the bottom of this group join the Blueshirts in the third and final group.
The Mushy Middle: Vancouver, Edmonton, Buffalo, New York, and Anaheim
These are the four teams the Rangers are “competing” with for the final two and a half weeks of the season. This group is tighter than either of the other two, with only three points separating 27th place Anaheim from 23rd place Vancouver. While the drop off in successful lottery odds isn’t as severe as the cellar dwellers, a couple of points could be the difference between picking in the top 3 being a legitimate chance or a pipe dream.
At this point in the season, the book is out on every NHL team. Remaining strength of schedule is the most important factor in whether a team will string together a couple of wins to sink their chances at winning a premium selection, or go through the motions en route to a pile of losses and a better draft pick.
Remaining schedule, March 19. pic.twitter.com/2AuG6LBBXN— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) March 19, 2019
The Rangers (73 GP, 69 PTS, 22 ROW) will be running a gauntlet of stronger teams for the remainder of the season. After falling to the hapless Red Wings last night, six of the team’s final nine games are against likely playoff participants. A three game stretch against the Flyers, Senators, and Devils could provide some unwanted points, but it’d be a shock to see the Rangers pick up even half of the remaining 18 standings points available to them. Compared to other members of their tier, New York’s schedule stacks up favorably for their lottery odds.
The Vancouver Canucks (73 GP, 72 PTS, 27 ROW) have a similar schedule to the Rangers, featuring six games against likely playoff teams and three games against the lowly Senators, Ducks, and Kings. The Sedin brothers aren’t hopping over the boards for them any time soon, so expect the Canucks to drop a majority of their final nine games and be neck and neck with New York down the stretch.
Edmonton (73 GP, 71 PTS, 29 ROW) has a slightly easier schedule on paper, with four games against teams that will be watching the playoffs from home. Of their five games against playoff teams, two of them take place in games 81 and 82 against the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames, the two teams vying for the Pacific Division title. If the division is wrapped up by then, the Oilers could have an additional two games against teams with nothing to play for, and that would be a boon for the Rangers.
In spite of their proximity to the Blueshirts in the standings, the Buffalo Sabres (72 GP, 71 PTS, 26 ROW) are probably the least of their worries. Buffalo currently has a game in hand on the Rangers, and of their ten remaining games, five of them come against the four “cellar dwellers”, including home and homes with both Ottawa and Detroit. The other half of their games come against teams fighting for playoff seeding, including matchups against Wild Card hopefuls Montreal and Columbus.
The biggest obstacle between the Rangers and the cellar dwellers would be the Anaheim Ducks (74 GP, 69 PTS, 27 ROW). After posting a 19-11-5 record through the middle of December, the Ducks have turned tanking into an art form. An unfathomably bad stretch of 2-15-4, including two separate losing streaks of 0-8-4 and 0-7-0, sank their hopes of a seventh consecutive playoff appearance. Their remaining schedule is a mixed bag consisting of four games against potential division champions, and four games against the other bottom feeders in the Pacific Division.
Looking at all of this, the Rangers would be in a near-optimal scenario if the season ended today. A 26th place finish would grant the team chances of 7.5%, 15.3%, and 23.3% of picking first, top two, or top three respectively. Dropping below Anaheim would bump those figures up to 8.5%, 17.2% and 26.1%, but the Ducks stopped playing months ago, and have one less game remaining, so finishing behind them will be difficult.
The absolute dream scenario would be crashing and burning to the point where the Devils and Red Wings can catch up to the Rangers as well. Those teams could very well fail to crack 70 points at all, let alone accumulate enough to surpass New York, so seeing the Rangers join the true bottom feeders would be a shock.
Regardless of how the final days of the 2018-19 regular season play out, the Rangers have some stiff competition around them. It might not be a heated battle for playoff positioning like seasons’ past, but it’s still something. And it’ll be over before you know it.